RUGBY | Resilient Longford unlucky to suffer agonizing defeat at hands of league leaders Wicklow

After two successive wins to close out 2022, Longford RFC made their way to league leaders Wicklow RFC on Sunday last with serious intent to get 2023 started in similar fashion.

Leinster Rugby League Division 1B: Wicklow 14 Longford 13

Wicklow beat Longford in the earlier home fixture this season by a single score and the squad had an appetite for revenge in the away fixture. Sunday’s proceedings did not disappoint those in attendance.

In fresh conditions, the game started and both sides set down markers for the events to follow.

Longford carried hard at the imposing Wicklow defensive line and the hits were not for the fainthearted.

Longford’s shape was much better than earlier in the season – there was a very clear plan with the system beginning to really click.

Both sides canceled each other out until the 20th minute when a period of sustained Longford pressure was rewarded with a penalty on the Wicklow 10 meter line.

Ryan McHugh stepped up to calmy slot home the opening 3 points to give Longford a deserved lead midway through the first half.

Unsurprisingly, Wicklow reacted and launched several waves a hard-running rugby that took all of Longford’s effort to keep at bay.

Worryingly however, penalties started to pile up against the visitors which took all the earlier positive momentum away. Longford were defending for their lives as Wicklow launched multiple attacks deep into the visitors half.

On one break away, the Wicklow attack surged towards the line under the Longford posts. The initial drive was just held up, only for the second phase to be halted by what the referee adjudged to have been a tackle off the ball by the covering Kieran O’Gorman.

Another penalty was awarded under the Longford posts with O’Gorman shown little mercy by the referee who displayed the yellow against Longford’s talisman.

From the resulting penalty Wicklow got in for the opening try of the match which was converted: 7-3 to Wicklow.

Longford defended valiantly for the next 10 minutes as half time approached. Despite the 1-man disadvantage, the Men in Black competed ferociously with Benny McManus, Ali McCormack and Tom Gilheany in particular laying their bodies on the line to dispel the Wicklow onslaught.

With only a minute left in the first half, Wicklow showed why they are top of the league with a clinical move wide that saw their winger get in at the corner for another try. This was superbly converted to give Wicklow a 14-3 lead at the break – perhaps an unfair reflection on what was in truth a much closer 1st half.

Longford were restored to their full compliment as the 2nd half got underway and it was the away team who got out of the traps much faster.

Mark McHugh at hooker made a superb line break from just inside his own half and carried for 25 meters before being caught by the retreating Wicklow defence.

Longford were quick in support and managed to retain possession before launching another series of incisive phases.
George McDermott spotted Daithí Connolly free on the right wing on 47 minutes and swung a long, precision pass that Connolly collected to slide in at the corner.

The difficult touchline conversion was missed, but the scoreboard was changed to 14-8 and it was now very much game on.

Longford could now smell an upset and went for the jugular. Every Wicklow attack was contained with fierce determination, resulting in several, crucial, hard worked turnovers.

Player/Coach Henry Bryce was introduced and began to make his mark via several signature carries in the Center that kept manners on Wicklow and as importantly kept them guessing.

Longford varied their play with Colm Glynn pulling the strings from outhalf, supported by intricate back play through Danny McHugh and Daithí Connolly in particular.

Finbarr McGowan was at all times on the front foot and his passing from the base was laser like every time in getting an ever-confident Longford backline moving.

Longford had a great opportunity shorty after to score central to the Wicklow posts which would have resulted in a more straight forward conversion.

Longford launched multiple phases at the Wicklow line and were inches short on several occasions.

Alas, the Wicklow defense held firm and, in the end, won a frustrating turnover from Longford’s perspective to give Wicklow an exit that they were lucky to earn.

Longford needed to remain calm and go again. Time was starting to wind down against the visitors.

But this team is resilient and back they came – all the way into the Wicklow 22 via a penalty to touch.

It was a Longford lineout, 10 meters out with only minutes to go. David Geelan rose highest to secure possession and Longford set an aggressive rolling maul at a beleaguered Wicklow pack.

Wicklow collapsed the Longford maul with the offending player shown a yellow card. Longford had 2 minutes and a man advantage to now seal the deal.

David Geelan repeated the previous feat and again Longford mauled hard at the Wicklow line. This time the maul kept it shape and momentum for Mark McHugh to crash over, 5 meters infield, on 78 minutes.

The difficult conversion was however missed and so we entered the final play of the game 14-13 behind.

It was not to be on this occasion. The game ended shortly after and a very relieved Wicklow sunk to their knees in exhaustion having bravely fended off a superb overall Longford effort.

For Longford, it was a case of what could have been. The team played with real heart and commitment within a very smart game plan that so nearly delivered what would have easily been the shock of the season in the division.

This level of performance must become the new normal as it will translate into crucial victories as the season enters the final crucial months.

“To dare is to do” – this Longford side have surprises up their sleeves yet. Onwards to Mullingar at home next Sunday in a crucial local derby.

Your support at the CPL Park next weekend would be greatly appreciated by all involved at LRFC.

LONGFORD: 1 – P Farrell 2– M McHugh 3 – L Brady 4 D Geelan 5 B McManus 6 A McCormack 7 K O’Gorman 8 T Gilheany 9 F McGowan 10 R McHugh 11 D McHugh 12 C Glynn 13 G McDermott 14 D Connolly 15 C Casey 16 R Collum 17 J Murray 18 J Geelan 19 H Bryce 20 D Masterson

Second XV suffer defeat
Longford Seconds traveled to Wicklow for the first game after the long Christmas break but didn’t realize the holidays were over for the first 20 minutes, by which time the hosts had racked up a 17-point lead.

The visitors put away the decorations and decided to get back to work and should have crossed the whitewash but were held up. The half-time break brought some clarity to the structures and Longford put together some lovely phases of play before Matt Gray crashed over with Robbie Shaw adding the conversion.

The Longford men doubled their try tally with good play with Lolu Adejimini powering over the line. The Wicklow men broke up the right before switching back to the left, catching Longford short of numbers.

Rioch Farrell worked really hard to stop the attack, but the hosts scored too easily off the ensuing scrum.

A great kick chase by Jamie Preece saw Longford awarded a penalty deep in opposition territory with quick thinking by Jimmy Mimnagh leading to a try by the Dromard man.

Unfortunately, Longford coughed up the ball while in attack and Wicklow took full advantage to add another 7 points on the final whistle. Wicklow deserved the victory, but we made it too easy with the poor start. This is something that will be rectified.

There were some fine performances with Brian Hanley, Ivor McCormack and Kevin Rodgers showing up in the pack while Jack Finnegan and debutant Daire McManus were the pick of the backs.

Match balls presentation
Longford Rugby mens teams were delighted to accept a generous contribution from Seamus Butler, Managing Director of Butler Manufacturing Services Limited. Seamus kindly presented 10 match balls for the senior mens 1st and 2nds teams to captain Danny McHugh, Director of Rugby Colm Glynn and Head Coach Henry Bryce. The donation is much appreciated.

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